Author Topic: String quartet by early American skeptic - Ben Franklin  (Read 855 times)

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Offline Beams

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String quartet by early American skeptic - Ben Franklin
« on: March 02, 2009, 01:23:05 PM »
While visiting Philadelphia last year, I read that Ben Franklin had written a string quartet. As I've been subjecting myself to learning the enhanced interrogation device known as the violin, I was intrigued.

Franklin was musical, and did play the violin, harp, and guitar. He also invented the glass armonica, for which a few composers (including Mozart) wrote pieces.

I looked into the quartet, and you can get a CD with it called The Early String Quartet in the U.S.A., performed by the Kohon quartet. It's a decent CD, and has some interesting pieces that are a little different from other quartets of the time period.

Two things are interesting about the Franklin quartet. One is that it's written for three violins and cello, instead of the more common two violins, one viola, and one cello. The other is that it's written in a style referred to as scordatura, in which the strings are tuned differently from their typical tuning. In the case of this quartet, they are tuned so the entire piece can be played on "open" strings - only the bow is used, and the left hand is not used to hold down the strings to create notes. This gives the piece a very unusual sound.

Finally, there is some skepticism as to whether Franklin actually wrote the piece. There are other copies of the piece attributed to other composers, and there are no references to the piece in any of Franklin's other writings. However, it was within his capability, and the unusual nature of how it is written may have been the sort of musical joke that Franklin might have composed. See http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06211/709108-42.stm for some more about the question as to who composed it.
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Offline leonet

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Re: String quartet by early American skeptic - Ben Franklin
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2009, 03:53:51 PM »
Interesting.  Is it written in a particular style that one would recognize as late baroque or early classical?
Use the word cybernetics, Norbert, because nobody knows what it means. This will always put you at an advantage in arguments.” -Claude Shannon

Offline Beams

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Re: String quartet by early American skeptic - Ben Franklin
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2009, 04:51:11 PM »
It's kind of hard for me to say. It's written as a five movement suite of dances. I'd say it's not baroque, as there's very little ornamentation. Whoever wrote it probably wrote it to be played by amateurs in a salon setting.

It's pretty simple musically, which is necessary because of the scordatura style. Given that, there was no way to change keys, and not much in the way of harmonies. Still, it's interesting to hear, just because it does sound so different from most other string quartets.

P.S. - I like your quote, leonet. I used to work for a now-defunct company called "Applied Cybernetics" back in the dot com boom. I never was sure what the name was supposed to tell our clients.
"Eyesight should learn from reason." - Kepler

 

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